Nebraska Schools Tackle Financial Literacy

Dec. 3, 2019, 6:45 a.m. ·

Teachers say financial Literacy education is more important than ever. (Stock photo)

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According to the Nebraska Council on Economic Education, about 60 percent of Nebraska students get mandatory lessons on managing personal finances. The state ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to financial literacy nationally. Some would like to see that rate increased. Schools in Nebraska are trying many ways to educate Nebraska students on financial literacy.

In Chris Chalupka’s kitchen in Omaha, he talks to his son Nolan about the importance of financial literacy. Nolan wasn’t taught in-depth financial literacy in school. "He always had a hole burnt in his pocket. No matter what amount of money was in there, he was going to spend it," Chalupka said. "Really, I was scared for him."

4th graders act as bank tellers at St. John Lutheran school in Seward. The bank partner in the "In School Savings Program" is Jones Bank. (Photo by Brandon McDermott)

But many students in Nebraska are shown the importance of taking care of money these days.

At Lincoln North Star high school, students are shuffling to math, social studies and science classes. They’re also headed to a course called “Take Charge.” The class used to be only 9 weeks long with a focus on resume building and filling out job applications. Now it combines the career aspect with financial literacy pieces to help students make wiser decisions as they leave high school.

“We're giving some students the exposure that they need to at least have heard some of the things that they'll be exposed to after they get out of high school,” Cindy Lien, the Take Charge teacher at North Star, said.

She says the class doesn’t go too deeply into any one facet of financial literacy, but they focus on a variety of topics.

No state mandate on financial literacy allows school districts to customize their own plans.

Nebraska State Treasurer John Murante said financial literacy is vital to setting up students in the state well for adulthood.

"It’s maybe the most important thing that that Nebraska kids can learn," Murante said.

Murante points to the “EverFi” program created in Washington D.C. It started in Nebraska by former state treasurer, Don Stenberg in 2013. It provides interactive, online programs on financial literacy for schools in the state free of charge.

“It's great to see that there are so many school districts out there who understand this priority and teach this in classes and we're just here to help," Murante said.

Murante said if the total student loan debt could be reduced, it would have a big impact on Nebraska’s economy.

“How to file your taxes, how to do a budget, how to balance your checkbook and make sure that what you have and the bank have are the exact same thing,” Lien said.

Students are taught online banking, how to pay taxes, learning how to read your paycheck and living within your means. Alexandra Izaguirre is a senior at North Star and taking the Take Charge class this semester. She says they’ve also discussed saving for college.

“We've talked about saving money which I think is pretty important,” Izaguirre said.

She says after learning about debt, she doesn’t want to take loans out without checking all options first.

“I think it's very important because we're not going to be (as) lost as other people,” Izaguirre said.

At St. John Lutheran, a private school about 25 miles away in Seward, a different program is helping students. It’s called the In School Savings Program.

Students here from 3rd through 8th grade are taught to save money. But instead of traveling to the bank, the bank comes to them and students act as bank tellers.

There are 31 similar school and bank partnerships across the state. In each case, a school partners with a local bank, in this case Jones Bank in Seward, and uses a template provided by the Nebraska Council of Economic Education. At St. John, students give their money to student tellers who count their money, fill out bank deposit slips and statements.

Max Wake is the president of Jones Bank in Seward. He says Nebraska is one of a handful of local control states. Every school district decides what is required with financial literacy for students to graduate. He says the In School Savings Program allows participating schools and banks to customize the plans for their community.

4th graders at St. John Lutheran school deposit money with student bankers in the "In School Savings Program." (Photo by Brandon McDermott)

“Our focus is not on the number of dollars saved and we're intentional about that,” Wake said.

One example of the customization for St. John and Jones Bank is the focus on deposits.

“We try to reward any deposit and not make it about who has a larger deposit or a smaller deposit,” Wake said.

Wake also says it’s about creating a good habit for students in saving.

A big part of the partnership for St. John with Jones Bank is teaching the students about giving back to the community.

“For them to go to chapel first and say we are going to give to others so they have the same opportunities that the Lord has blessed us with,” Fiala said. “Now we're going to save so we can make a bigger impact.”

Amber Fiala is the principal at St John Lutheran. In addition, Fiala says it teaches the students to sacrifice their immediate impulses for a better future.

“But then it's also created opportunity,” Fiala said. “What are you saving for and what goals do you have beyond high school, even in college.”

Jennifer Davidson crafted the template of the In School Savings Program in. She’s also the president of the Nebraska Council of Economic Education. She recently conducted a survey of students in who took part in the program. The results were encouraging.

Cindy Lien (standing) teaches the "Take Charge" course at Lincoln North Star. (Photo by Brandon McDermott)

“Students who participated in this program, once they’re in high school, they’re more likely to be banked, have jobs while in high school and they’re saving at higher rates than students who did not participate in the elementary program,” Davidson said.

She says most financial decisions have long-term consequences and time is one of the biggest assets people have when it comes to building wealth.

“If we can get them early if we can establish this habit of savings for example early, we change the complete directory of their financial future,” Davidson said.

Back in the Chalupka’s kitchen in Omaha, Nolan tells his dad what his financial guidance has meant to him. Even though Nolan didn’t have these types of programs when he was in school, financial literacy still clicked for him.

"Thanks for telling me the importance of this," Nolan Chalupka tells his dad. "I'm glad that I'm saving all this money and I'm glad that I'm getting set up for the real world because I know it's not forgiving.

"It's not and I'm proud of you for, taking the bull by the horns and listening to what I had to say," said Chris Chalupka with a proud smile.